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Ital: Inclusive veganism takes root in Jamaica

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'Ital' is directly linked to the teachings of Rastafarianism. It derives from the notion that food should be natural, pure and from the earth, to encourage the livity – life energy.

CLARE CONSIDINE: ‘Beyond the standard barefoot boho status that tends to attach to plant-based diets across the globe, “ital” ((Rastafarian food) is directly linked to the teachings of Rastafarianism… It derives from the notion that food should be natural, pure and from the earth, to encourage the livity – life energy – that lies at the heart of Rastafarian belief. However, in a predominantly Christian country, fewer than one per cent of Jamaicans identify as Rasta.

Within Rastafarianism there are three main denominations or ​“mansions” – Bobo, Nyabinghi and Twelve Tribes – and they operate a sliding scale of dietary strictness. ​“Maybe two thirds of Rastas would identify with Twelve Tribes,” says Blair. ​“In their eyes, the first founder did keep a bare foolishness: ​‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’” Bobos and Nyahbinghi would say that a real ital diet excludes all animal products, salt and butter (considered unhealthy), while Twelve Tribes will eat any creature that doesn’t walk on hooves. It’s this room for manoeuvre that has allowed a new form of ital-inspired veganism to blossom in the Jamaican capital.

Ital was born partly from necessity. Rastafarianism began as a religion-cum-political movement in the 1930s, built around an Afrocentric interpretation of the Old Testament. Rastas formed self-sufficient communities in the mountains where they could put their beliefs into practice. ​“You eat what you start cultivating,” Blair explains. The name derives from the English word ​“vital”, with the emphasis on the letter ​“i” signifying the unity of the speaker with nature…

For many older Jamaicans, ital comes with a hangover of prejudice. In a city where jerk-anything and rice tends to be the order of the day, coconut bowls stuffed with mini-buffets of colour and texture – gooey and chewy sweet plantains join soothing daals, nutty black rice and zingy salads – should be welcome. But for many it is at once alien and also strangely exclusive. ​“Vegetables are expensive here at times,” says Blair. ​“We don’t grow things in greenhouses, so it depends on how the weather treats us.” Plus, of course, there are those same old accusations that come with any kind of plant-based diet: ​“People say it’s tasteless, that it lacks nutrients.”

But for younger Jamaicans ital has the allure of forbidden fruit. Blair talks about Damian Marley – son of Bob and poster-boy for international next-gen Rastas – with misty-eyed affection. ​“He was everything to us growing up,” he explains. ​“He sang about herbs and different stuff to eat. And you’d want to look up all these words. If he sang about spirulina [a blue-green algae favoured by vegans], we wanted to know what that was.” So, for Blair and many of his peers, this was the giddy route into veganism. ​“A couple of us from school took up this path of not eating meat. But it would be more like: ​‘Yo, I’m not gonna eat meat for a week.’”.’ SOURCE…

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